Biofuel has been embraced by many across the world as the long awaited remedy to foreseen oil and gas shortage but turning food to fuel has been a matter of concern, especially in the developing countries. This is because a major characteristic of developing countries is, its means of subsistence being agriculture. We have come together as a group to examine the effects of the production of biofuels in developing countries. Thus, is it a blessing or a curse?
Biofuel is defined as a transport fuel made from plant material and recycled elements of food chain, and as such considered renewable and sustainable in contrast to the majority of liquid and gas fuels we use today, which are fossil based with limited world reserved. (Energy North East 2010). There are two major types of biofuel; bioethanol and biodiesel.
Bioethanol is the type of fuel used as a petrol substitute for road transport vehicles. Bioethanol fuel is mainly produced by the sugar fermentation process, although it can also be manufactured by the organic process of reacting ethylene with steam. Figure 1:1 diagram explains chemical reaction to the production bioethanol. (Bioethanol fuel 2010)
Biodiesel on the other hand is the name of a clean burning substitute fuel, produced from domestic, renewable resources. Biodiesel has no petroleum, but it can be mixed at any level with petroleum diesel to form a biodiesel blend. It can be used in compression-ignition diesel engines with little or no modifications. Biodiesel is simple to use, recyclable, harmless, and essentially free of aromatics. (African Alternative Energy 2010). The figure of this diagram explains the process of biodiesel production.
The following part of these coursework we as a group have come to examine the positive impacts of biofuel in developing countries.
Biofuels create job opportunities for rural dwellers, therefore avoiding rural-urban migration, a problem which has been persistent in developing countries for many years. Rural dwellers tend to migrate to urban cities or centres in search of white collar jobs. Therefore the existence of biofuel companies would definitely create job for rural dwellers, shifting their interest in urban areas to rural ones.
Illiteracy can be said to be one of the major characteristics of developing countries. In 1950, the United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organization or UNESCO estimated that the illiteracy rate in Nigeria was about 84.4%. In the year 1994, this number has not improved significantly. Illiteracy in Nigeria still remains a high 68%. (Illiteracy In Nigeria 2010) The existence of biofuel companies would come with teaching the inhabitants of those areas how to carry out their jobs effectively and at the same time creating an avenue of the enlightenment of inhabitants.
Perhaps the biggest multiplier of biofuels, both economically and socially, is the additional money spent why members of the community, who gain new or higher-paying jobs. People buy their basic necessities near where they live; they find local places to buy food, clothes and they pay taxes and contribute to the development of a community (Worldwatch Institute 2007, p129)
Developing countries tend to import fuels because of their technological state and lack of infrastructure to refine fuel to its useable form. Thus making them spend money they do not have. The creation of biofuel industries in developing countries help cut down on her spending and at the same time, increase her export, which would definitely boost her foreign reserves. In other words, it improves the country's balance of trade.
Biofuels have also been argued that that they are more environmental friendly compared to other forms of fuel. They reduce greenhouse emissions when compared to conventional transport fuels.
In fact, biofuels are not carbon neutral, basically because it requires energy to grow the crops and transform them into fuel. The volume of fuel used during this production does not have large impact on the overall savings achieved by biofuels.
Thus, biofuels still proved to be considerably more environmentally friendly than the alternatives.
“In fact, according to technique called Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) first generation biofuels can save up to 60% of carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels. Second generation biofuels offer carbon emission savings up to 80%. This was backed by a recent United Kingdom Government publication which stated biofuels can reduce emissions by 50-60%.” (TheGreenCarWebsite.co.uk 2010).
With thickness similar to petrol-diesel, it can be used in diesel engines (cars, trucks, and construction equipments), jet engines and heating and electricity generating systems. It mixes easily with petrol-diesel and can be used as an additive to ultra-low sulphur diesel to increase lubricity (Arungu-Olende S. 2010).
We have look at the possible advantages of biofuel and its positive impacts in developing countries now we would examine the negative impacts in developing countries
The production of biofuels and its advantages in the developing countries cannot be overemphasised. However everything that has an advantage has a corresponding disadvantage. We will then examine some of these criticisms of biofuel production in developing countries.
Perhaps the most debated issue on the production of biofuel is the idea that ‘food should be replaced with fuel'. Food prices would definitely rise because the availability of crops for consumption would be limited because most of the agricultural produce would go into the production of biofuels. This issue would definitely purge the economy of any developing country.
The production of biofuels for transport on a large scale would require massive deforestation and this would render many animals homeless, allowing them roam the streets thereby causing accidents and misfortunes. In other words it would destroy habitats for animals and render them homeless.
Biofuel will suffer from low energy outputs. Doubts have been raised whether biofuels will replace the real fuels because critics argue that they do not have the heat capacity to do so (I.I.E.D, 2010)
The production of biofuels can also result to land competition leading to the further land concentration, the marginalisation of small scale agriculture and widespread conversion of forests and other ecosystems. Droughts and other local and regional climatic extremes and the extensive use of genetically modified organisms leading to unprecedented risks (World Rainforest Movement, 2010)
A recent US scientific study concluded that most biofuels emit more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels when you take the whole cycle, including land clearance, into account. For example they discovered made from palm oil, grown on previously Indonesian peat land would take at least eight hundred and fourty years to pay back. Even carbon from the greenest option - sugar cane grown in Brazil would take seventeen years to repay (SKYNEWS, 2008)
Illiteracy is a common characteristic of developing countries and ignorance towards new technology as well. The establishment of biofuel industries in rural areas for example could cause riot and anarchy in the community. The existence of a new form of energy could be seen an insult in the way of life of rural dwellers. This will definitely lead to loss of lives and property in developing countries.
The production of biofuels in developing countries come with all these disadvantages and researchers till this day are trying to understand this new form of energy before exposing it to the general public. Many renowned researchers have debated on this issue for quite some time now. As previously highlighted, a great deal of developing countries depend on their agricultural produce to get by and destroying this sector of the economy for the production of this so called answer to oil and gas shortage would not be accepted by many, especially those that actually reside in the affected areas. Farmers for example, do not readily have good educational backgrounds to accept the adoption of the new technology. Basic fuels have been around since they can remember and they are more likely to go on about how their forefathers would not approve to such madness.
Although the benefits highlighted above are undeniable, communicating this to rural dwellers would be very challenging and forcefully getting them to accept would lead to riot, anarchy and doom.
In conclusion, more research has to be made to help answer the crucial questions looming over the impact of growing biofuels in developing countries and the world at large. As a group we have examined some suggestions as to how to make this work.
First and foremost, intense research to show absolute guarantee that biofuels would be cheaper than the normal ones. Developing countries do not have money in excess and cannot afford to adopt anything new that has no absolute cost advantage.
Secondly, the assurance to farmers that most of their land would not be vandalised and used for biofuel production and actually sticking to this promise. Most farmers have had their piece of land passed down from generation to generation and protecting their property at all cost is most imperative.
Lastly, research and surveys carried out at the grassroots and scholars able to communicate the above to them in their native languages, informing them of core benefits of switching to biofuel.
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Arungu-Olende,S (2008) Biofuels: benefits and risks for developing countries (online),
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International Institute for environment and development (2010) available on http://126.96.36.199/search?q=cache:vEYtZFe3OWAJ:www.iied.org/+iied.org&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk
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The Green Car (2010), What are the advantages of biofuels (online) available on: http://www.thegreencarwebsite.co.uk/blog/index.php/biofuel-the-pros-and-cons/ (2010-03-26)
Wang, H (2010) Illiteracy in Nigeria: Does a Solution Exist (online), available from http://eserver.org/courses/fall95/76-100g/papers/wang/default.html (2010-03-13)
Worldwatch Institute, (2007) Biofuels for Transport: GlobalPpotential and Implications for Sustainable Energy and Agriculture, UK and USA, Earthscan.
World Rain Forest (2010) Biofuels: A Disaster in the Making (online) available on: http://www.wrm.org.uy/actors/CCC/Nairobi/Disaster_Making.html (2010-02-10)